Damien Chazelle, in ‘First Man,’ delivers a film that is opposite of what everyone expects it to be. I think I know what he is trying to do here – the film is very simple, and a lot of it is internal and subtle. That style is very discordant with its subject – Neil Armstrong walking in the moon – that it feels like a step back. All in all, I am confused by what the film is trying to say. As far as biopics go, it’s not as fully formed, and only represented a particular part of Armstrong’s life. Is the film supposed to represent the mood of those times? Or perhaps it’s a low-key action movie, as it is effective in making you feel like you are in there inside the space ship with Armstrong (the sound direction here should be a shoo-in for an Academy Award nomination) All in all, it’s not nearly enough of any of those things, resulting to a competent but ultimately meh of a movie. A friend of mine, describing it, called it ‘unremarkable’ and I agree. There’s this big movie here that doesn’t deliver in a lot of ways.
Ryan Gosling, as Neil Armstrong, gives a real understated – and effective – performance. He fills the character well despite it being written with starkness. I always say it’s harder to convey something subtly because an actor would limited talent would easily go over than under. There is an intelligence in how Gosling gives a glance or a stare to convey emotion. In a lot of ways, this is very similar to his performance in ‘Drive’ so there’s a precedent to how he tackled this role.
A film like this should have excited me about something – science, patriotism – but my biggest takeaway from it is that Gosling’s performance deserved a better movie.